I was putting groceries away in the tiny kitchen when I opened a cabinet down below the silverware drawer. Empty. Large, deep, and completely bare. This was six months after I bought my home. For half a year, I had stood in front of this cabinet and chopped vegetables, rolled out pizza dough, stacked plates. I never noticed it.
For a condo dweller, this was gold. Free real estate had edged open new possibilities in my tightly packed world. My joy clanged through the house. I remember laughing as a whooshing sense of openness coursed through me. All that time I was fighting for room, this open place was right here!
I kept it empty for two days, peeking in the open door at that inviting space. Now, of course, sports bottles and travel mugs fill every crevice around the cupcake carrier stored down there. The 10-pound bag of rice I bought today is homeless, squatting on top of the loaf pans behind the cereal boxes. The hidden space in my kitchen has all revealed itself. New nooks only appear these days if I purge and rearrange them into being.
Tonight I stand at the counter inches from that packed cupboard and try to keep the knife steady. The handful of chopped spinach goes first on the plate. I flip the eggs, finish them with a quick brown skin, then nudge them onto the bed of greens. My lips are moving as I speak the steps. Garnish with the white cheddar. Rinse the grapes, take a napkin.
Stay alive one more night.
My wrists jitter. The counter is a mess. I carry the plate with two hands and leave the chamomile tea to steep.
I take a deep, uneven breath as I sit to eat. As I exhale, I quietly thank my younger self — Two year-ago me? Maybe pre-40-me? — for her generosity. It was thoughtful of her to stick with good habits at a time when skipping would have been inconsequential. She was already in a happy mood, hopeful and in love, yet that woman still walked every day. She renewed the gym membership, cuddled with the dog, downloaded the podcasts. She took the stairs.
Younger me went to the trouble of stocking fresh produce in the fridge week after week, even when it would have been easier to grab a Power Bar on the way to game night with friends. She stopped drinking alcohol on a whim, making the decision when she was lighthearted and clear-headed. She decided that being a teetotaler was both simpler and a helluva lot easier on the wallet.
I have to thank her, repeatedly and intentionally, to keep from hearing the foul invective spewing from the loudspeakers nailed to the walls of my mind. She and every other incarnation of me that has ever inhabited this skin is right now enduring a campaign of pure terror. I have slogged through two weeks physically shaking from the severity of this bout of depression. For the first time in my life, I understand the impulse to cut. What a relief it would be to concentrate the darkness, to focus it, control it.
The pain is everywhere. It is almost unbearable.
Except that I’m bearing it.
Because younger-me chose to stay alive. She chose, over and over again, to keep moving against her inner resistance. She decided to test the limits of her capacity instead of simply believing the rigidity of them. Along the way, she learned 100 new skills that she has put to work in her world. She chipped those boundaries away, smoothing the walls ever wider. She carved out for herself then — and thankfully, for me now — a studio (workshop? sanctuary?) that is as capacious as it is versatile.
That room is here.
Here somewhere. Under the counter or inside the next task. Within this ink, this dog’s willing flank, this 12th lat pull at the gym.
Maybe it waits inches from my knees, promising to steady them as they threaten to buckle under the weight of this vile albatross.
It’s somewhere close, and it’s been here all along.
It’s pointless to feel too urgently for it. Fingertips hungering for a secret recess in the stone wall of this dark maze will only rub themselves raw. Instead I mimic the sure steps younger-me practiced when she was stronger. I follow the songlines of habits she trod into our shared earth. I curl the free-weights in my shaking grip and count to 15. I walk the two mile loop. I slice the vegetables, drink the water, run the laundry, go to the office. Plaster on her smile. Look up and pretend I wear her eyes.
I turn away from the hissing indictments of my conduct and follow instead the sound of her simple affirmations. I pretend to be the woman she worked so diligently to become.
I may indeed lack the will right now to make room in myself for the needed restoration, yet it turns out I contain plenty.
I come to the end of another unbearable day.
It turns out I might be able to face one more.